1960s resort postcard scenes as seen today
June 7, 2021 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Time claims us all. This article shows scenes from resorts of the 1960s morphing into how they look today.

I'm fascinated with the idea of permanence of earth and the works of humanity - every building, every place you've ever been, stands at the top of a column of history. Even when a building is destroyed or torn down, something of it remains. In these works, these buildings go on long after their owners do. You can almost hear the echoes in the pictures, the sound of water splashing, dishes clinking, idle conversations of the vacationers.
posted by lon_star (53 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am so confused. Were these cherry-picked to all be abandoned places? Do people stay home and use their screens instead now? Is it that more people used to be able to afford to go to these sorts of places?
posted by aniola at 7:44 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


My guess: they were popular with NYC and general north eastern population centers before affordable flights became available, so the population of the surrounding area hasn't increased that much but the accessible vacation options have increased dramatically, so this place suffered. If you check the population of the nearby towns, they are very small, so it was 100% vacation-traveler driven.

Still insanely sad to see, but also amazing work to recreate the original beautiful post cards.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:07 AM on June 7 [19 favorites]


There is a previously on this somewhere. Basically flying got cheap so these kinds of nearby resorts in the Catskills, Poconos, etc became less of a thing. In addition, the middle class has been hollowed out, so there is less vacation time.

Also, society is (slightly) less bigoted, so there is less need for marginalized communities to build their own spaces, like the Jewish resorts in the Catskills.
posted by rockindata at 8:08 AM on June 7 [33 favorites]


It is an immutable law of nature that all things eventually reach their lowest energy state of Skate Punk Hangout. When the universe reaches heat death, it will manifest as one infinitely large abandoned concrete swimming pool covered in Suicidal Tendencies graffiti.
posted by gwint at 8:12 AM on June 7 [63 favorites]


Could have sworn that one building exterior was used in the series "The Sinner", Season 2 - but apparently not.
posted by rozcakj at 8:12 AM on June 7


I wish places like this were still an option. I'm not sure who flights got cheap for but it wasn't me. The photographer did a great job with this photo set.
posted by bleep at 8:29 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I do think there was a curious bifurcation where there were two types of summer escape resorts, mountain and beach, and beach resorts, while they had their individual rise and falls, never went out of style, but the mountain ones did on a major scale.
posted by tavella at 8:36 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


One of the comments on the site notes that it wasn't just air travel that got cheaper and more common, but air CONDITIONING. One of the primary engines that made these resorts run was the summer heat of the city. The mountains in the Poconos and the Catskills were cooler and less humid.
posted by rikschell at 8:37 AM on June 7 [52 favorites]


I was thinking about that as well, rikschell, though I'd assume air conditioning, or at least a window unit, was available for most of these families by the 60s?
posted by tavella at 8:40 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]




The high resolution animated gifs loading really is reminiscent of the old-timey internet.
posted by adept256 at 9:29 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


Back before air conditioning became common, people would get out of the cities and go up in the mountains to cool off. Swimming, boating, fishing, eating out, dancing, listening to comedians. Even after A/C, it's not the worst vacation.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:29 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


Wild to see that one of the same stylish chairs from the postcard is still sitting in that tennis lounge. What a labor of love to recreate these postcards so perfectly - really cool project. Thanks!
posted by potrzebie at 9:33 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Maybe I just work with dilapidated infrastructure too much but I thought most of these looked pretty good for their age.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 9:37 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


This is really cool! I particularly liked the outdoor photos of the forest reclaiming the buildings. The pools and other indoor spaces just look sad.

I wonder if a part of the decline of these resorts was also the rise of the two-income household. Back in the day, these resorts were basically a summer home for wives and children; husbands came up on weekends and were city bachelors the rest of the week. (This is the premise of the Seven Year Itch, for instance, as well as Dirty Dancing.) As more women entered the workforce, it became harder to sustain a summer resort based on cabins being occupied for 1-2 weeks at a time instead of 1-2 (or more) months.
posted by basalganglia at 9:53 AM on June 7 [15 favorites]


Three notes on the decline of the Catskills:
  • Families used to go for weeks at a time. Fathers would spend the weekends and moms + kids would stay through the week. You can't do this with two working parents.
  • Domestic labor has gotten more expensive. We know that the US median wage has stagnated but remember that in the 50s and 60s there was a whole range of extremely low-wage service workers like hotel maids and kitchen staff. Wages in the leisure and hospitality sector have increased 50%, inflation-adjusted, while productivity has increased hardly at all. Combined with international travel getting cheaper, this makes a summer in the Catskills look like a less good deal compared to two weeks in Europe.
  • For the same reason, day or weekend vacation spots in the Northeast (Jersey shore, Hamptons, Delaware beaches, ski resorts) remain popular. It's not just air conditioning; it's the cost (pecuniary and otherwise) of leaving town for a long time.
posted by goingonit at 10:01 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure who flights got cheap for but it wasn't me.

It’s more like everyone’s wages (except CEOs) have not moved up. In 2005 or so I was working for a travel organization and one day a parcel of our newsletters from ~1970 appeared on our doorstep. Looking through them, I was intrigued to see that the prices of flights overseas looked exactly correct to my modern-day eyes (i.e. a flight that cost three hundred dollars in 2005 cost about the same in 1970) although the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator tells me that what cost $100 in 1970 cost about $525 thirty-five years later.

I suspect that right now, the costs are still lower in absolute dollars as post-pandemic airlines scrabble to recover the lost earnings of the last fifteen months.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:17 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure who flights got cheap for but it wasn't me.

From NYC I'm pretty sure there are several airlines that offer flights to Florida for less than $100 a person, even if they are coupons or occasional discounts. They aren't that hard to come by with some planning.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:28 AM on June 7


I'm pretty sure that's Eugene Levy bowling in the background of this one.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:32 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Yeah if you want to go to Florida.
posted by bleep at 10:53 AM on June 7


I wish places like this were still an option.

You can still rent a cabin in the Poconos for a few days in the summer. My friends and I (7+ people) do this every year we can. There are still pretty little lakes where you can swim without worrying about alligators or leeches. The kids love it.

It's not touristy anymore. Although the remains of tourist infrastructure make it interesting, what it is is creepy, in a Pennsyltucky Gothic way. The woods are close and the people are ... well. (I once took a bus there, which I do not recommend.) But when no one else is about, it is a lovely place to relax.

Will Eisner did at least one comic about a working-class Jewish family going to the Catskills. It seemed almost as much work for their mother as staying in town, since the family rented a place with a shared kitchen and had to make new friends and enemies. But the fresh air was the main thing.

Thanks for these pictures. I love this kind of thing so much. Why don't we build such wonderful pools anymore? (Insurance and litigation, I think.) And I especially appreciate how the old cocktail lounge still has one of the orange chairs that were in the postcard.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:54 AM on June 7 [8 favorites]


(By "cabin" I should stress that I mean "'70s house with lodge-type decor and wood paneling." It's not swank.)
posted by Countess Elena at 10:55 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


But when no one else is about, it is a lovely place to relax.


Did you have the time of your life?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:14 AM on June 7 [8 favorites]


Why don't we build such wonderful pools anymore? (Insurance and litigation, I think.)

They still build some pools that look like that, for rec centers and places like that. Actually the big square pool is definitely out, replaced by lazy rivers, climbing walls, wave pools and generally fancier leisure pools.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:50 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


... I'd assume air conditioning, or at least a window unit, was available for most of these families by the 60s?

AC was available, but it was just a bit expensive. I grew up in an average middle class home in the 60s and 70s and my parents could only afford one window unit.

For their bedroom.
posted by freakazoid at 11:56 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I did some poking around Pocono vacation options after that time MaxFunCon East was cancelled (I think because the Inn at Pocono Manor burned down...?)

It seems like the places that are left really cater to their kind of vintage vibe, which is right up my alley (and so is the cooler weather), but that's a pretty niche appeal.

People like hot weather and beaches, as long as their hotel rooms will be nice and cool. And NYC in particular seems to have gotten...a lot richer. Half the NYC folks I know don't go to the Poconos because they go to fuckin' Italy for six months a year, because they're too rich to have jobs. The other half is less rich than that, but they either: 1) own their own cabin in, like, Maine, or 2) are too strapped from their NYC rents/mortgages that they don't go anywhere.

The NYC middle class from The Seven Year Itch that sent folks to these resorts is a dying breed.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:04 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure who flights got cheap for but it wasn't me.

Flights have gotten cheaper, in the domestic US, even since the modern era. My first flight, in 1990, cost $480 from ORD-LAX. That's about $1000 in 2021 dollars. You can get that route for under $300 today.

$1000, interestingly, is what the airlines now charge on that route for a "first class" ticket. My working theory is that the current domestic US first-class cabin is basically the old coach class (free meal, legroom), and modern coach is a bus ticket.
posted by hwyengr at 12:16 PM on June 7 [8 favorites]


If anyone wants to see a color-saturated recreation of what a Catskills vacation was like in its prime, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel did a three episode arc in season 3 that takes place at a (Jewish) Catskills summer resort circa 1960. The set decorating, costumes, and locations are just delightful.

Sadly the family resort they used, Scott's Family Resort, sold early this year, another casualty of COVID (along with aging owners). The buyers plan to reopen after extensive renovations but of course, it won't be quite the same.

I wish places like this were still an option.

From personal experience, Minnesota has a few lake resorts in this style, especially around the Brainerd area. Big sprawling family-owned resorts, with a weekly calendar of scheduled activities, a dining hall, beach, indoor and outdoor pools, golf, fishing, etc. They were built (or renovated) in the same era and you can still see the midcentury influences in their design. There are a lot of families that just hit up Cragun's or Madden's every year for a summer vacation week and that is What They've Always Done, especially once it gets to be a multi-generational event.
posted by castlebravo at 12:24 PM on June 7 [9 favorites]


I was curious about the white strikingly modernist building in the photos - a bit of searching suggests that it seems to have been called 'Unity House,' and was actually owned by a garment union called the ILGWU.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:31 PM on June 7


I was just looking up those Mrs Maisel episodes myself, they're incredible. Episodes 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:36 PM on June 7


I think another appeal of these resorts was that they were so all-inclusive. Not just the pools, lake, tennis, etc., but all kinds of recreation organized on the grounds, like a summer camp. At night, there was central dining and entertainment. The guests could spend their whole vacation on the grounds. (If the roads were as narrow, spooky, and twisty as they are today, they would probably want to.) This is the same model as the British holiday camp.

Today, you still get this model of vacations with Disney resorts and cruises (on preview: and at Brainerd!), and it's great for families. But more Americans want to vacation a la carte, without being thrown together with other people, which was part of the old model, for better or worse. (See Dorothy Parker's "Our Own Crowd," still very funny after a hundred years.) The British holiday camp is still a thing, and I am morbidly fascinated with it because reports are that it is now the worst possible way to spend your time.

Anyway, I am too fascinated with the development of ideas of leisure and place. I really just came back to share an old ad I had seen about your Honeymoon Home on Happiness Lane in the Poconos.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:39 PM on June 7 [5 favorites]


All-inclusive land resorts are still a thing, especially in Mexico and the Caribbean for American tourists.

Sandals does a pretty solid business catering to vacationers afraid to explore beyond the walls of their island resorts. All-you-can-eat food and sometimes drink (like the cruise lines) helps solidify that deal.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:49 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Here in Ontario there used to be all kinds of resorts in Algonquin Park and even passenger trains to bring people inside the park. The idea was the same, people wanted to get out of the hot and crowded cities in the summer and would spend the time near nature and lakes they could swim in. At the visitor centre they have pictures of what it used to be like and its a far cry from what most people would think of when they think of Algonquin Park these days. I wonder to what extent those old structures are still around, if they were demolished or have turned into Skate Punk Hangouts as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:08 PM on June 7


It is an immutable law of nature that all things eventually reach their lowest energy state of Skate Punk Hangout.

The pools here reminded me immediately of Walter White's dry backyard pool in Breaking Bad, after he goes on the lam and the government seizes his house.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:20 PM on June 7


any portmanteau in a storm: Arowhon Pines is still around! Prices have gone up though...many of the earlier resort hotels were closed due to changes in park policy. I would say that Muskoka is more like the Catskills than Algonquin however.
posted by goingonit at 1:23 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


It always blows my mind how short this Catskills resort era was, given its cultural importance.

I think another factor not yet mentioned was white flight. In the immediate postwar period when these were popular, a lot of middle-class Jewish families still lived in the boroughs in NYC, but then started moving to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s. In the suburbs you've got yards, and parks, and well-maintained town pools. These resorts were the upscale version of the more rustic whole-family Jewish camps that sprang up before the war to get families out of the hot, polluted, congested city. Increasing affluence allowed for fancier resorts, but then led to families not "needing" them.

I also think declining levels of civic feeling play a role. Putnam in Bowling Alone pegs the late sixties as the height of people wanting to do things as a community, with a sharp dropoff in the 70s and 80s. These resorts were intensely communal - watching Dirty Dancing you see how much emphasis was put on doing all the activities and being part of the scene. That became less popular and probably a lot of families felt like "well, we live in the suburbs now so the kids can go swimming every day anyway, we'd rather spend two weeks at a private house we rent on the beach than two months in a cramped cottage where we have to socialize with people we may not like."
posted by lunasol at 1:25 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I wonder if a part of the decline of these resorts was also the rise of the two-income household. Back in the day, these resorts were basically a summer home for wives and children; husbands came up on weekends and were city bachelors the rest of the week.

Yeah, I remember Mom and us kids spending several weeks at the lake every summer when I was little, and Dad coming down on his days off.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:47 PM on June 7


For their bedroom.

LOL same here! The message from my parents was always "we love you kids enormously, but life is hard isn't it." Not a bad lesson to learn, before the helicopter era.
posted by Melismata at 2:04 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


The Grossinger's pool shots reminded me of this picture of Bobby Fischer preparing for his match with Petrosian.
posted by MtDewd at 2:14 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Another factor was how people spent their vacation time. In the 1950s you packed up the family to a cabin by the lake and just...stayed there. That was it, and people were fine with that. Now, people demand high octane entertainment: huge amusement parks, Vegas casinos, water parks, cruise ships, and of course, foreign countries. Much more expensive to travel overseas back then, but airfare got cheap by the mid 1960s or so.
posted by zardoz at 2:18 PM on June 7


This report from a couple of years ago does a similar "before & after" thing with the Pousada de Covilhã, which was a TB sanatorium built into the side of a big hill in Serra de Estrela in Portugal. It closed in 1969 and was basically left to crumble in the elements. I stopped there in the winter of 1994 and wandered all through the wreck, it was like swimming inside the Titanic. Then a big hotel group bought it in the noughts and rebuilt it, staying more or less faithful to the original lines and painting it a lovely injected salmon pink. Now it's a fancy hotel (a pousada), and still pretty impressive. The video is from the reopening in 2014, and is in Portuguese.
posted by chavenet at 2:22 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Also, a key factor in the establishment of specifically Jewish resorts during this period was the availability of kosher dining for those who were more observant. At a time when the mainstream hospitality industry was much less concerned with different dietary needs and preferences, this was very important.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:24 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Oh also, a fun tidbit: as a kid I went to the theater camp Stagedoor Manor, which is in one of these old resorts. That resort was so perfect for this purpose - the hotel rooms were refitted with bunk beds, the big old theater is still a theater (and they repurposed a bunch of the other facilities for theaters - I think there are a total of 7-8) but there's also woods, and pools for swimming.

One of the highlights of the summer was performing at the other resorts in the area, though even in the 90s the clientele at these camps was pretty geriatric. I didn't really stop to think why that was as a kid, but we did all love Dirty Dancing and sort of vaguely understood there was a connection there.

From personal experience, Minnesota has a few lake resorts in this style, especially around the Brainerd area. Big sprawling family-owned resorts, with a weekly calendar of scheduled activities, a dining hall, beach, indoor and outdoor pools, golf, fishing, etc.

One thing I really like in MN is the more traditional "camps" set up around lakes. You'll have maybe a dozen little bungalow-style cabins (usually two tiny bedrooms with a tiny living room/kitchen and a lakefront yard) around a lake. It's basically just a step up from tent camping but it's affordable and when I lived in Minneapolis, I had some fun weekends with friends renting a few of them as a group. One of my friends regularly has a family reunion where they'll rent out the whole camp.
posted by lunasol at 2:27 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Back before air conditioning became common, people would get out of the cities and go up in the mountains to cool off. Swimming, boating, fishing, eating out, dancing, listening to comedians. Even after A/C, it's not the worst vacation.

Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions."
posted by mikelieman at 3:10 PM on June 7 [5 favorites]


This sort of thing always makes me so sad - I really wish that people still wanted to go to places like these, so they could stay open... I've never been to the Hamptons but I know so many people who go and complain about the traffic getting there and coming back, and the cost of everything, and the crowds, and how artificial everything is - it seems like if resorts like these could have somehow just held out a little longer, they might have been rediscovered by all the New Yorkers who want to go away but don't want to fly. But maybe that's just wishful thinking because I love the whole midcentury vibe, and what's perfect to me isn't really aspirational to anyone anymore.

My family took us to the Homowack for Passover one year back in the early 80s (or maybe late 70's?) - I was maybe 10 or 11, so I don't remember it at all, other than it was still considered a big deal at the time (so it must have been well before the downfall). I also had the opportunity to stay at Kutcher's about two years before it was torn down - some of the rooms were still just amazing, like in those photos, where you could almost picture what they were like in their heyday, and then you'd turn a corner and go through a "no trespassing" door and down a blocked off dark corridor (so sue me) and there'd be a guest room with no ceiling and raccoon nests in the furniture - just crazy haunting. And I still wish they hadn't torn it down.
posted by Mchelly at 3:44 PM on June 7 [9 favorites]


Hey if we take up a collection we could buy Kate's Lazy Meadow, sold by Kate Pierson of the B-52's. Bring back vacationing upstate as a MetaFilter meet-up. Only $2.2M.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:27 PM on June 7 [8 favorites]


Here in Ontario there used to be all kinds of resorts in Algonquin Park

There was also a moderately well known one in Pontypool, Ontario.

Manitoba had some as well. The town of Winnipeg Beach, while not a resort, catered particularly to the Jewish vacationers but many non-Protestants ended up there as well. Years ago, we stayed in the building that was once the synagogue of Winnipeg Beach.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:38 PM on June 7


A Walk on the Moon is a movie that's set in one of these resorts. It's p good light drama.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:45 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Hey if we take up a collection we could buy Kate's Lazy Meadow, sold by Kate Pierson of the B-52's. Bring back vacationing upstate as a MetaFilter meet-up. Only $2.2M.

Only if one of the buildings becomes the Love Shack. As covered in a recent FPP, this much money will buy you a decent semi-detached house in many cities... or an income property in the Catskills. Doesn’t seem like a difficult choice to me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:11 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


MtDewd: The Grossinger's pool shots reminded me of this picture of Bobby Fischer preparing for his match with Petrosian.

Incidentally, Tania Grossinger’s memoir is an excellent read.
posted by dr_dank at 8:33 PM on June 7


Although I realize that the poem is about battlefields and not abandoned buildings, seeing the works of Man reclaimed by Nature always makes me think of Carl Sandburg‘s “Grass.”

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place Is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.

posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:00 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


> AC was available, but it was just a bit expensive.

"It's not an air conditioner air conditioner, it's an air conditioner" (1975)

My memory (I was 8 y.o.) of this ad (or a variant?) is that "Herb" is surprised that she'd come home with an A.C. because of the cost.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 8:52 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


This is the same model as the British holiday camp.

If you're curious, search on "Butlin's"
posted by Rash at 11:35 AM on June 9


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